Watch Your Tone: How to Use Your Voice To Gain Status on the Job

voice gain status

Our voices communicate a lot more about us than perhaps we’d like.

In a recent article, Ivy Exec explained how a recent study out from the University of Stirling found that our vocal pitch rises higher when we feel lower on the social status hierarchy than the person we’re speaking to. Because the study attempted to replicate the experience of a job interview, we began by explaining how to better manage these types of interactions. But now, we’re applying this fascinating study to the ways in which we engage with our coworkers after we’re hired to the job.

Visit here to learn how the tone of your voice impacts your chances of landing a job.

Recognize your self-perception

The most important thing to recognize is that the University of Stirling study relied on how test subjects perceived themselves and others. But perception is not reality. Just because you perceive yourself to be at the bottom of the food chain in the corporate hierarchy does not mean you are. For example, some 70-percent of people suffer from the so-called Imposter Syndrome, by which even the most highly qualified executives feel as if they are not truly good enough for the jobs they hold. Again, perception is not reality and it’s important to take a sober, clear-eyed accounting of where you actually stand in your company’s org chart. If you find yourself speaking in a high-pitched voice to your subordinates, you may be telling them that you do not really believe you belong in your top-tier role. 

Evaluate your perception of others

It’s helpful to know who intimidates you and who does not in the workplace. Maybe you struggle to speak to your boss because you are so impressed with the prestigious awards and accolades she’s garnered over her long career. It’s not a bad thing to admire your supervisor—many people struggle with the opposite problem. But if you worry that your intimidation factor is making you appear less secure and confident, it may be time to consider your vocal tone. Focus on angling your vocal pitch down and avoiding large variations in tone. Even just focusing on this technique as you speak may keep you calm and collected in these interactions.

Keep in mind, the University of Stirling study found that we may perceive heightened status in somewhat unexpected places. How attractive a person is may alter their perceived status. This could be helpful to be aware of when you find yourself particularly challenged in speaking to a very good looking but low-ranking assistant on your team.

Also read: 3 Office Politics Strategies That are Crucial for Success in the Workplace

Manage yourself, be aware of others

Now that you’re aware of how you may be revealing your insecurities in the pitch of your voice, it’s time to manage the situation. By now, you know that you are going to want to try and keep your voice lower pitched and measured without much variation in tone or volume to appear more in control. But what do you do when a workplace conflict breaks out?

Let’s say you approach your manager, seeking a raise. You measure your vocal tone to make sure you’re not appearing submissive with a higher-pitched speaking voice, indicating your self-perception as lower on the social hierarchy. So far so good. But what happens if your manager responds with vocal cues that alert you to the fact that she is uncomfortable with the request? Maybe her voice is rising and falling dramatically, she tells you that no one can have a raise for the rest of the fiscal year and you should not be asking. Where ordinarily you might perceive her answer as being just a rejection, now you’re prepared to read into it a bit more. Perhaps her wild vocal modulations alert you to the fact that she perceives herself as being less dominant than you. This is helpful information to have. She may be telling you—unwittingly, of course—that she is afraid that you have the power in the situation and, without a raise, she fears that you might leave the company. Knowing that can help you decide how to proceed.

Also read: How NOT to Ask for a Raise

Let’s take a look at another example. Maybe you find yourself struggling with gaining respect around the office. You find that people do not respond well to your insights in meetings or that they are not quick to act on your requests for deliverables. Try recording yourself at key points in your day and play back your voice for yourself. This will likely be a painful task but it may be necessary to understand what is going on. You may find that you speak in a high-pitched voice in meetings—a voice that you hardly recognize as being your normal speaking voice. This submissive tone may be undercutting the value of what you’re actually saying. Similarly, using this high-pitched voice might be devaluing your requests for resources, leaving even your subordinates without respect for your needs, treating you as if you were lower on the corporate hierarchy than perhaps you are.

Bottom Line:
Know yourself and know where you are falling victim to the tone of your voice. But, at the same time, learn to recognize these vocal modulations in those around you. You may find yourself cluing in to how people really perceive themselves and you. Still, be careful how you wield this knowledge: confronting people you think are demonstrating their own low self-perception will likely backfire, so proceed with caution.

About the Author

R. Kress is an Emmy Award winning journalist whose reporting and writing has appeared in national media from NBC News to the International Herald Tribune. She has covered news from cities around the world including Jerusalem, Krakow, Amman and Mumbai.